Categorized | Life

Angie Kim came here to find career success

Posted on 13 November 2008

As a third-grader in Korea, Angie Kim’s teacher asked if anyone wanted to be class president. Kim raised her hand. After all, she was a top student. The teacher asked her to come to the front of the class and hold out her hand. The teacher then slapped Kim’s fingers with a hard ruler. “Girls should know better than to think they should be class president!” the teacher scolded.

Kim disagreed.

“It was a turning point for me,” says Kim, now 32. “It was one incident, but it reflected the society I was in. Girls were not expected to advance, not supposed to experience business success.” Women were naturally destined for one future, the theory went, and men another.

Your career should be a reflection of your life–live it to the fullest, have a passion for it.

But she has since proven that philosophy wrong. Arriving in America at age 13 with her parents, Kim overcame potentially self-defeating language barriers to enjoy remarkable success as a top academic scholar, corporate lawyer, and public policy expert. Then, just when many would settle into the creature comforts of such a career, she risked it all to serve as a New Economy pioneer in e-commerce.

Present and Past
She is the co-founder, president, and chief customer officer of Equalfooting Technologies in Virginia. Her company evens the playing field for small businesses (both traditional and e-commerce) by providing the technology infrastructure behind purchasing, financing, and shipping operations.

An old precept still applies in today’s New Economy: People can come to America with nothing, work hard at something they love, and prosper. Indeed, what would that third-grade teacher think now, after watching a “girl” like Kim testify on e-commerce issues before the U.S. Senate, Department of Commerce, and Federal Trade Commission?

Yet there was little doubt that she could succeed here. “It was clear to me,” Kim recalls, “even in elementary school, that I would not be able to share in academic and professional success in Korea. That just wasn’t acceptable to my parents or me. I had a passion.”

Her parents–both trained lawyers–came with Kim to the suburbs of Baltimore and worked odd jobs to make ends meet: translation stints, welding crews, graveyard shifts. They saved enough to open a grocery store, but it was hardly something out of a fairy tale. The store was located in a rough section downtown, and her parents worked behind a counter protected by bulletproof glass. Kim helped whenever she could, finding a real talent for working out customer disputes. She learned English and was accepted to a Michigan boarding school.

Soon it would be Stanford, where she finished early and served as the Phi Beta Kappa graduation speaker, and Harvard Law, graduating magna cum laude after serving as editor of the Harvard Law Review for two years. But Kim never forgot her roots. Along the way, she worked for a Michigan congressman on Capitol Hill and helped deal with race-related problems. “I was motivated by racial justice issues,” she says. “I still remember being in middle school and having kids tease you because you wear different clothes and can’t speak English very well. That really sensitizes you to racial struggles.”

Into the Future
Before long, Kim began to build up top credentials in the corporate world. She served as a litigation attorney at the Washington-based firm of Williams and Connolly, then joined McKinsey and Company as an engagement manager–and member of the e-commerce leadership group. In 1999, she rolled the dice and decided to start EqualFooting.

Since then, the New Economy waters have gotten choppy, but Kim remains calm. “I have an entrepreneurial background,” she says, “with respect to my parents. They left everything they had in Korea, and ended up owning a half a dozen stores and are now retiring. I have that instinct, too. Taking risks is what makes you stronger. If we can survive this downturn, we can do anything.”

Does this self-made woman have a philosophy of career success? “Always look for new challenges. You should be satisfied in your current job, but never shut yourself off from other opportunities. Your career should be a reflection of your life–live it to the fullest, have a passion for it.”

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